Wrongly injected toddler fights leukaemia

BLINDSIDED: Ryan and Keri Topperwien with Chace, who is battling a rare form of leukaemia.
A Hamilton toddler who was mistakenly injected with a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer when he was just six weeks old has developed a rare form of leukaemia.

Chace Topperwien began chemotherapy for the M7 strand of acute myeloid leukaemia on his second birthday last month, but doctors cannot tell them whether the Gardasil vaccine he was injected with in May 2009 caused the cancer.

His parents, Ryan and Keri Topperwien, are devastated at the diagnosis after they were reassured at the time of the incident that their baby would not suffer any adverse reactions.

“I had thought in the very back of my mind that the absolute worst thing they could say is leukaemia,” Mrs Topperwien said. “When they said that he had it, it blindsided both of us.”

The couple, both 27, were horrified when at six weeks old their son was given the vaccination meant for teenage girls instead of one to prevent meningitis.

Gardasil targets the human papillomavirus, which causes warts on the hands, feet and genitals and is responsible for 99 per cent of cervical cancers.

Since the cancer diagnosis, Chace has been undergoing an aggressive course of chemotherapy treatment for up to 10 hours a day in Starship hospital in Auckland.

The little boy is due to start a second course of chemotherapy on Tuesday but doctors are waiting for his white blood cell levels to increase.

Until then the once energetic and outdoor-loving preschooler is confined to his bedroom 23 hours a day while his immune system recovers – a simple cold or bug could be disastrous.

The couple said their only child was taking the illness in his stride and, other than a nasogastric tube in his nose for feeding, looked deceivingly well.

“He’s still smiling and laughing. Other than not being allowed out of his room he’s still happy. But he knows that he’s not well.”

Mr Topperwien has taken indefinite leave from his job as a ceiling installer and Mrs Topperwien has put her PhD studies on hold so they can be at their son’s bedside.

The pair, who are sleeping at Ronald McDonald House and take turns spending the night with Chace, have taken a three-month “mortgage holiday” to keep financial pressures at bay.

But they are worried about what will happen when that ends and said if Chace’s chemotherapy was not successful they might need to look at further treatment overseas.

To help the family, friends have started three Facebook pages to raise money and so far fundraising events have netted more than $4000. A head-shaving fundraiser planned for tonight in Hamilton had attracted up to 20 participants, Mr Topperwien said.

He and his wife had already shaved their own hair to show Chace, whose hair had begun falling out, that it was okay to have it shaved off.

Meanwhile they want their concerns about a possible link between the Gardasil vaccination mistake and Chace’s leukaemia acknowledged. “It’s not a crazy theory,” Mrs Topperwien said.

“We feel the development of his immune system has been interrupted and when he was diagnosed doctors said that the mutation of his cells had come about through a different pathway to the way leukaemia normally develops.”

Waikato District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Felicity Dumble said she did not believe there would be a link between Gardasil and leukaemia.

However, she said it was important cases such as Chace’s be monitored and researched to establish if there was a possible association.

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